In 1107 Henry de Beaumont, Earl of Warwick was granted the Lordship of Gower by Henry I. At this time Wales was not a single political entity and instead was a series of independent Kingdoms whose power and influence fluctuated depending upon the strengths of their respective rulers. Whilst there was no centrally co-ordinated Norman invasion, magnates such as Henry de Beaumont were encouraged to seize land and in return were given near regal powers within their new territories. Such a strategy required large numbers of castles to suppress the newly conquered regions and Gower was no exception. Henry and his followers constructed at least seven substantial castles on the peninsula including Pennard Castle. The latter was built in a commanding position overlooking Three Cliffs Bay and consisted of an earthwork ring topped with a wooden palisade enclosing a courtyard which was occupied by a small stone hall. The cliffs immediately to the north and west provided strong natural defences.
The Lordship of Gower was granted to the de Braose family in 1203 by King John. By this time the castle had been eclipsed by others on the peninsula - in particular Swansea and Oystermouth - and initially the family made few modifications to Pennard Castle. However, around the late thirteenth century the castle was rebuilt in stone most probably by William de Braose, Baron Braose. William was a powerful magnate within Edward I's court and provided extensive military service to the King with his most notable military achievements being the capture of the Welsh rebel William Cragh in 1290 and participation in the Battle of Falkirk (1298) where the English defeated William Wallace. His Lordship of Gower, where he exercised his extensive rights as a Marcher Lord, brought him into dispute with John de Monmouth, Bishop of Llandaff. Whilst his relationship with the King enabled these issues to be resolved in his favour, it was perhaps this dispute that led to the upgrading of Pennard Castle. Utilising local limestone and sandstone, the new build broadly copied the line taken by the ringwork defence of the first castle. A twin towered gatehouse, a small scale imitation of the great Gatehouse Keeps that had recently built in the North of Wales, was added at this time. Of note this new structure was probably aimed more at making an impression on the Bishop of Llandaff than actual defence as it had a number of significant shortfalls. In particular the portcullis grooves did not run all the way down to the ground whilst the arrow slits were placed at ineffectual positions.
Prompted by his unpopular favourite, Hugh Despenser (the Younger), Pennard Castle was confiscated by Edward II in 1320. The King accused William of granting the castle to his son-in-law, John de Mowbray, without Royal permission. Despenser was appointed as the Royal Warden of the castle but, as the troubles of Edward II's reign played out, the castle was eventually restored to de Braose before returning to the Despensers once again and eventually onto the Beauchamp family. However by this time Pennard Castle was suffering heavily from sand. The shifting dunes started to engulf the castle whilst the wind swept sand eroded the masonry. This prompted the abandonment of Pennard and the small settlement that had grown up around the castle withered away. The last element to be abandoned was St Mary's Church which was left to the sands in 1532.
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Pennard Castle consists of the ruins of small late thirteenth/early fourteenth century castle. The twin towered Gatehouse still stands and portions of the curtain wall, some still standing to their original height, are also visible. The site offers good views over Three Cliffs Bay.
Gower Peninsula. The Norman invasion of Gower was led by Henry de Beaumont, Earl of Warwick in the early twelfth century. He and his followers built multiple castles on the Gower peninsula most notably at Swansea, Loughor, Oystermouth, Penrice, Penmaen and Pennard.
Gatehouse. The twin-towered gatehouse was designed to be a small scale imitation of the great towers built by Edward I in North Wales. It was for show rather the defence as evidenced by the ineffective placing of the arrow slits.
Three Cliffs Bay. The castle towered over Three Cliffs Bay. Penmean Castle was located on the headland nearest the sea.
St Mary’s Church. The last element of the castle and associated settlement to be abandoned was St Mary’s church. This continued to be used until 1532. Only the small fragment seen above remains.
Commanding the view over Three Cliffs Bay, Pennard Castle was one of a series of fortifications that secured Norman control over the Lordship of Gower. Initially raised as a small earth and timber ringwork castle, it was rebuilt in stone in the thirteenth century but eventually abandoned due to the shifting sand dunes.
Pennard Castle is not sign-posted but can be accessed via a footpath through a golf course. On-road parking is possible at Linkside Drive which is found off Pennard Road in central Pennard. Visitors can then walk along the (unpaved) Sandy Lane until you arrival at the public right of way leading to the castle.
Car Parking Option
Linkside Drive, SA3 2BP